The Bandwidth of Books

This Design Observer post about who is reading all those books went over some familiar ground ("explosion of information" = "ignorance about more things") and elicited some good comments. The crux of the post was to answer this question:

Why keep on with the work of traditional publishing when the Internet would seem to provide a much more efficient means for reaching people? What is it about the book, pamphlet and magazine formats that continue to lure publishers onto the rocks of insolvency?

It's a good question. Control of the design and sheer love of the physical object are two compelling reasons. (I really can't imagine Bryan Talbot's eye-popping Alice in Sunderland as multimedia object--it just works and feels so complete as a book.)

One of the more interesting answers was that the authors use their small print runs to trade books back and forth with other authors.

Such books function primarily as a currency within the network of other artists, other publishers, and other designers who share their particular sensibility.

Does this sound like zine fandom or what? Or maybe link exchanges in the blog world? The intent being to create a community and start a conversation among members of a self-chosen tribe.

Perhaps it's also those members of our modern digital media culture looking in the rear view mirror at what's receding into the past. Hence the burst over the last 10 years of books about books and reading (though such objects have always been a part of literate culture, just as the theater and movies abound in stories about backstage dramas).

It all reminds me of an Isaac Asimov essay about the perfect entertainment cassette that would be physically comfortable to hold and use, in any lighting, allowing one to start or stop it at any point, rewind or fast-forward and then return to one's present location immediately, and so on. Of course, this perfect cassette is a book.

It also puts me in mind of the astonishing success of Lulu.com and the craftspeople I see selling handmade paper and blank books. There's still a need for the physically beautiful and tactile in us, which the vaporous digital ether can't compete against. (When the next hurricane comes and takes out my electricity for 5 days, will I pass the time reading an e-book or a real book?)